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Which Activities Promote Neuroplasticity?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified Therapist 

Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change and adapt over time. Britannica defines neuroplasticity as the “capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction.” In short, you can change your brain. 

Here’s an example of neuroplasticity. David is a college student who is struggling to pass a math exam. David has always struggled with math and lacks an understanding of basic concepts. David decided to do what he can to improve his ability to pass his exam. He participates in tutoring, begins using mnemonic devices, improves his sleep hygiene, and incorporates music into his studying. This is an example of David utilizing neuroplasticity to help him to change his brain in order to pass his exam. 

How can you take advantage of neuroplasticity? Here are activities that promote neuroplasticity. 

  1. Traveling. Try visiting new places. These can be a great distance away, or they can even be in your own city, town, or state. Be mindful during your travels in order to absorb your new surroundings. 
  2. Using mnemonic devices. A method to help you to remember something is a mnemonic device. For example, if you observe a hippopotamus walking on a college campus, you’d likely remember it. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. This is a mnemonic device. 
  3. Learning a musical instrument. Is there a musical instrument that you’ve always wanted to try? Now may be the time. Remember, this process is about learning the instrument, not gaining proficiency. 
  4. Engaging in non-dominant hand exercises. Your non-dominant hand is the hand that has less dexterity and strength and is the hand that you tend to use less often. Here are some non-dominant hand exercises to try:
    • Draw straight lines and circles with your non-dominant hand.
    • Brush your hair, brush your teeth, apply make-up, eat, use your phone or mouse with your non-dominant hand.
    • Write in cursive or print with your non-dominant hand. 
  5. Reading fiction. Emory University conducted a study that suggests that connectivity in the brains of their participants increased after they read the same fiction novel. Researcher Gregory Berns reported that reading a novel “can transport you into the body of the protagonist.”(Clark, 2013). Connectivity is a skill that helps to establish and maintain social relationships.
  6. Increasing your vocabulary. Learning new words can help to expand the brain’s visual and auditory structures. Try learning one new word a day or, if you encounter a word you don’t know, look it up, commit it to memory, and perhaps try using it in a sentence.  
  7. Create Art. If you already engage in artistic activities, keep it up! If not, try one artistic medium in order to gain the benefits of neuroplasticity. Here are some ideas: pottery, painting, drawing, collages, photography, and digital design. 
  8. Dance. Dancing uses many different parts of your brain. Try dancing on your own without any direction, learn a new dance or dance with a partner. 
  9. Sleep. Getting good sleep is a vital part of brain development, as sleep cleans daily toxins out of your brain and allows you to process information. This is one of the reasons why professors usually discourage people from pulling “all-nighters” before needing to regurgitate information on an exam. Sleep is necessary for the optimal cognitive performance of one’s brain.
  10. Intermittent Fasting. Stanford University reports that intermittent fasting increases synaptic plasticity in the brain, which is a biological measurement of learning and memory. Before engaging in intermittent fasting, you should consult with your doctor. 

Your brain has the amazing ability to change and adapt. Try these activities to take advantage of your neuroplasticity. 

Bair, S. (2015). Intermittent Fasting: Try This at Home for Brain Health. Stanford Law School. Retrieved from https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/Bair

Clark, C. (2013). A novel looks at how stories may change the brain. Blog Post Retrieved from http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html

Nguyen, T. (2016). 10 Proven Ways To Grow Your Brain: Neurogenesis And Neuroplasticity. Blog posts retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-proven-ways-to-grow-yo_b_10374730

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